Biesenbach and Hoffmann were merely following the example of another curator, Hans-Ulrich Obrist—and as a result of his attention, they discovered the work of a number of Colombian artists, from the interactive drawing projects of Nicolás Paris, 34, to the cheeky architectural innovations of Gabriel Sierra. “It’s such a strong, young scene, with such a particular language,” explained Hoffmann, who first visited the country a decade ago. “And it’s as if it suddenly came into being. There are a lot of continuities with an earlier generation that wasn’t very well known outside of the country—interests in form, in social issues—but it’s very subtle, which is fascinating.”
When I met Sierra, 36, a rising star with a boyish mien, he gave me a crash course in modernist Colombian architecture, a touchstone for many of these artists. The bookshelves of his apartment in downtown Bogotá were lined with vintage copies of Domus and hand-me-down Spanish-language architecture magazines, and he pointed out that even the building we were in was modeled on the art deco of 1930s San Francisco. Then, of course, came the coup de grâce: “When I tell people my rent is around $400 a month,” Sierra said, “they don’t believe me.”
His current work takes the form of direct, on-site sculptural intervention. “I was just invited to participate in a project for the High Line,” he tells me—one of two New York showings this winter (the other is at the New Museum’s current triennial)—“and it makes me nervous.” The High Line curator may be anxious as well: Sierra’s contribution to last summer’s Lyon Biennial consisted of excising a large section of the gallery’s floor and suspending it perpendicularly.
To visit Bogotá is to experience a city where architecture completely transformed both landscape and social space during a construction boom in the fifties and sixties. In the historical district of La Candelaria, brutalist poured-concrete buildings sprawl out among colonial-era stucco homes and rococo churches. As Sierra walks with me to check out a new gallery space, N-ce arte, and its soaring interior filled with concrete pilasters, we stroll past the masterwork of Colombia’s best-known architect, the Le Corbusier–apprenticed Rogelio Salmona, whose Torres del Parque apartment buildings are a compass point rivaled only by the bleached-white steeple perched atop the peak of Monserrate, on the city’s eastern flank.
Artists are channeling this legacy of modernism in a wide range of mediums. Andrés Matías Pinilla’s recent installation of free-floating monochrome panels is like a walk-in formalist painting exploded into dozens of vibrant shards. In his studio in the hills above the boho Macarena district, meanwhile, Nicolás Consuegra, 35, who returned to Bogotá after getting an MFA from New York’s Pratt Institute in 2007, showed me his latest work: a reduced-scale diorama of a Bogotá interior, reconstructed from a 1962 Paul Beer photograph. This might seem like an empty exercise in nostalgia if not for Consuegra’s other projects, which include capturing the ghostlike traces left on buildings after their vintage signage has been removed.